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Wilson To’s Malaria Test

Testing for malaria? Wilson To has an app for that, and he’ll begin trials for his smartphone diagnostic later this summer in India and Ethiopia

A year ago, when Wilson To decided to try building a better malaria test, his first visit was not to a hospital or a lab but to an electronics store. He needed a micro lens, the tiny ball of glass that guides the laser in a CD or DVD player. “We literally started tearing up these devices,” says To, 25, a doctoral student in pathology at the University of California at Davis.

Later this summer, To and four partners will begin field-testing the result of that experimentation, a diagnostic tool dubbed Lifelens, in India and Ethiopia. Lifelens makes use of a smartphone running Windows 7 Phone software. A $50 micro lens is mounted over the phone’s camera and can capture high-resolution images of the cells in a drop of blood. Software quickly analyzes the images, confirming the presence or absence of malaria.